The 2011 MLB Draft, the CBA...and the Cape League?

by Greg in

Editor's Note: We are thrilled to welcome Greg Lowder to Codball as a contributor. Greg joined Codball in 2011 and currently lives and works in Boston. He’s an avid fan of all the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots and attended two of the most famous games in Boston sports history: Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees and the 2002 AFC Divisional Playoff Game (aka The Tuck Rule Game) against the Raiders in the snow.

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By Greg Lowder

Itʼs only fitting that my Codball debut focuses on the MLB Draft, which is what I look forward to the most during the baseball season.

The draft has gained in popularity in recent years because of once in a generation talents Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper (the first overall picks of the Washington Nationals in the 2009 and 2010 drafts,espectively). Couple that with the recent success of player development power houses like the Rays (among others), and itʼs easy to understand the boost in popularity.

More and more fans understand that the draft represents the most costeffective way teams can inject talent into their system. Obviously, the draft primarily impacts MLB franchises but it also plays a strong role in shaping the Cape League. Each player drafted and signed represents one less player in college baseball the following season and, thus, one less player eligible for the Cape League.

During 2010ʼs draft preparation, fans heard whispers from forward-looking national writers, most notably Keith Law (ESPN Insider), Jim Callis (BaseballAmerica), and Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus), that the 2011 draft would be one for the ages.

While the 2011 draft lacks the hype surrounding Strasburg and Harper, fans were told the 2011 class would more than make up for it with depth. While the draftees proved to be less “historic” than anticipated from a performance standpoint, their scouting reports were still glowing.

The larger issue at hand, however, is that the 2011 draft is the last under MLBʼs current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which is set to expire in December. Combining the deep draft class with the expiring CBA could create a massive deterioration in the overall talent level on the Cape for years to come.

Before we get to how this yearʼs draft will impact the Cape more than in years past, we need to look at the facts on a more broad landscape. The draft will change under the next CBA, that much we know. Commissioner Bud Selig continues to push for a worldwide draft despite the fact that it will be a logistical nightmare. Selig also wants to implement a hard slotting system, which Iʼll discuss below.

Another possible change to the draft would allow teams to trade picks, which is prevalent in the NBA, NHL, and NFL, and may create more excitement on draft day. Finally, the concept of “draft pick compensation,” is likely to change or be eliminated altogether. Currently, a team may be compensated with an additional draft pick (or two) if their star (and, as youʼll see, I use that term loosely) player declines the teamʼs offer of arbitration and signs with a new team.

This is the reason why the Tampa Bay Rays have 12 of the first 89 picks this year. They were given compensation picks for losing superstars like Carl Crawford, Randy Choate, and Chad Qualls. Wait. Whatʼs that you say? Chad Qualls and Randy Choate are far from superstars? Clearly, the concept is broken and needs to be addressed.

The threat of a hard slotting system is the real issue. Currently, the draft has a soft slotting system by which the Commissionerʼs Office “suggests” how much a team should pay its draftees on a per-pick basis. For example, the slot recommendation for # last yearʼs top pick was 4 million dollars.

The second pick had a recommended slot of 3.25 million dollars and each slot tiered down with each incremental pick. Most front offices understand the value of the draft and merely use the Commissionerʼs slot recommendation as a punch line by going “over slot” repeatedly during the fifty round draft. At the same time, draftees, with the help of their advisors (read: agents), have an idea of their value. They have an idea of what they should be paid. If a team drafting a high school player doesnʼt meet his quote, heʼll simply go to college and re-enter the draft in at least two years. Likewise, draft-eligible college sophomores and juniors will return to school to try to improve their value.

On its surface, if youʼre a fan of the Cape League, this should excite you. After all, a more talented college baseball pool means more players eligible to play on the Cape. One would expect the talent level of the Cape to improve, too. The problem is, many top baseball players are also the top athletes in the country and they have opportunities to play other sports.

Bubba Starling, 2011ʼs fifth overall pick by the Kansas City Royals, was also recruited to play quarterback at Nebraska in the fall. Archie Bradley, the seventh pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks, has a full football scholarship at Oklahoma. This is not groundbreaking news.

The list of baseball players with promising opportunities to play other sports is too long to list. They chose to play baseball for a variety of reasons and the economic factor is somewhere near the top of the list.

The opportunity to earn a significant payday when youʼre too young to legally enjoy an adult beverage would be enticing to most of us. Implementing hard slotting eliminates the draftʼs inherent market conditions and will give more players the opportunity to play other sports at advanced levels.

Baseball needs more talented athletes, not fewer. We wonʼt know just how many players each team will sign until the August 15th deadline. No team signs each of their picks. Actually, no team comes close to signing each of their picks because they operate on a draft budget. Some kids, like Harwichʼs Austin Wilson (Stanford), canʼt be bought out of their college commitment.

Some kids are drafted as insurance in case a team canʼt sign another player. But, given the uncertainty surrounding the future structure of the draft and considering the substantial depth of the draft class, itʼs easy to imagine teams making even more of a concerted effort to sign as many of their picks as their budget allows. 2011 could represent the last opportunity for teams to spend as much as they want and a smart front office will look to exploit every opportunity the draft presents.

Where do we go from here? As a Cape League fan, is this something to lose sleep over? No. The league will always attract a large number of premier college baseball players. Itʼs important to remember that the level of talent on the field is only a small reason why the league is so popular.

A Cape League gameʼs atmosphere is what brings you, as fans, to the park. Hard slotting, on the other hand, is concerning as it would rob the sport of some of its top athletes. Commissioner Selig canʼt afford to make a mistake here, because we, as fans, will suffer.